Florham Park, NJ – Its simple math for Wayne Hunter.
On any given Sunday, the Jets lineman will factor into probably a half-dozen special teams plays and perhaps a good dozen or so snaps in goal line situations on either offense or defense. Then, every once in awhile, Hunter will be called in for the Jets jumbo package as an ineligible receiver. So, it will come to roughly 15 snaps a game on a typical Sunday that Hunter will usually see the field.
Thursday night at the New Meadowlands Stadium, Hunter could see the vast majority of snaps for an offense that has averaged 62 plays over the past three games, starting at right tackle in place of Damien Woody. And that doesn’t even include his time on special teams or at nose tackle on goal line situations for the defense.
Hunter said it is the most he’s played in a non-preseason game since the playoffs last year “when it seems like we ran the goal line offense on every play.”
Woody’s MCL injury suffered in the second quarter of Sunday’s 30-27 win over the Texans wasn’t “anything too severe” in the words of head coach Rex Ryan but mainly involved swelling in his right knee. As such, Hunter was with the starters on Tuesday during practice, getting reps. On Sunday, Hunter came in after Woody limped off the field and conceded two second half sacks to the Texans Mario Williams.
Hunter said that when you’re on the sidelines, “all you can really do is take mental reps until you get in” but he acknowledges that he’s far more ready to play than he was called upon in a moment’s notice last Sunday.
“I think I’m a lot more prepared,” Hunter said.
Compounding the fact that he is forced into duty as a starter is that Hunter now has to get himself ready to play in short order. Given the Jets schedule of having played on Sunday and then getting just three full days of rest before their primetime game on Thanksgiving, Hunter doesn’t have as much time to watch film and get himself physically ready to play what could be four times the number of snaps over what he is used to.
Hunter said that he isn’t doing any extra conditioning or training to get ready for the added responsibilities of starting along the offensive line; in fact given the team’s short week of practice, he said they team is staying away from lifting entirely. With all the extra snaps he received on Sunday, he said he’s ready for the responsibility of starting.
“In a way, last Sunday was actually the conditioning for me for this Thursday,” Hunter said. “How much more ready am I going to be, out there against the Bengals, if I am running sprints or something like that? The best way for me to get ready to play is to actually play and that’s what Thursday did for me.”
Head coach Rex Ryan hasn’t told Hunter if he’s starting or not. However, Woody’s presence on the stationary bike on Tuesday morning seemed to indicate that there is a pretty good chance of Hunter getting his fair share of the snaps and perhaps even the nod to start.
“I’m still waiting but he’s limping pretty heavily,” Hunter said of Woody’s condition. “I’m preparing like I’ll be starting.”
Hunter himself understands Woody’s predicament, having had his own battle with an injury this season. In the Week 2 win over New England, he had a direct collision below his right knee when a Patriots helmet hit him, causing him to limp off the field. His leg swelled up and turned purple as he missed the subsequent two games. Hunter ended up returning by Week 5 despite the discoloration that caused his leg to turn almost a “Barney purple” hue and he wore a shin guard specifically molded to the shape of his leg for several weeks thereafter.
Hunter terms his shin “90 to 95%” in terms of overall health and that it won’t affect him on Thursday night.
“I’m just real excited about the opportunity, even though it means that Damien isn’t playing,” Hunter said. “It’s a great chance for me to go out there and play and I’m looking forward to. It will be the most snaps I’ll probably have ever played, so who wouldn’t be excited about something like that?”
And those snaps won’t be on just offense, even if he is starting for Woody.
“Yep, the plan remains the same. Offense, defense in that goal line set, even special teams,” Hunter said. “Nothing changes.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012